Arts & Culture

B-Side’s Curated Guide to Singapore Art Week 2021

Let us take you through this island-wide art takeover from Yayoi Kusama to Southeast Asian sci-fi.

Words by
b-side staff

Text by Shawn Hoo.

Like the wild, beautiful weeds that have cropped up in our neighbourhoods after a period of intense isolation—art has taken over. 

At least that’s the giddy sense of excitement one gets as Singapore Art Week returns for its ninth edition today, bringing together more than 300 artists in over 100 hybrid art programmes in a blooming beginning to this year’s art calendar. With their ambitious slogan, “Art Takes Over”, this year’s shows are springing up across not just the city centre’s art districts in Bras Basah, Civic District, Gillman Barracks, and Tanjong Pagar: you might well find yourself in Art Week territory as you take a bus ride along route 175 or even when jogging along Sengkang Riverside Park. Not to mention the flowering of online events that will allow not just local but international art lovers to participate in this year’s festivities from their own homes. Or, to repurpose a lockdown joke: art is healing

Feeling like the dizzying variety has left you confused about where to start? B-Side has embarked on an exclusive peek preview into this year’s Singapore Art Week and curated a definitive guide to eight must-see shows that will satisfy any curious art lover’s palate and whet your appetite for more: 

Nelson Lim, Construction of Time, Porcelain Slip and Metal, 250x250x250cm, 2016

Singapore Ceramics Now 2021
Begin with this inaugural exhibition that returns this year with the theme of “Marking | Making”, drawing together the work of 19 Singapore-based ceramics artists. While they share the same medium, their practices reveal the stunning malleability of ceramics to incorporate a wide swathe of cross-disciplinary approaches. Take Nelson Lim’ Construction of Memories for instance, a clay scaffold that welcomes us into the architectural and monumental possibilities of the form. This grand opening is contrasted dramatically with the piece at the end of the room: Aiwei Foo and Kent Lee’s Shaman Tearoom, which draws on the medium’s performativity and the trickling minutiae of time in ritual tea practice. In between, we are treated to the sheer ambitious range that acclaimed ceramicist Jason Lim has curated. On both weekends, join the artists in online conversations about the possibilities of the clay medium, whether a “Singapore”-style ceramics might exist, and the state of ceramics education. 

20 Jan – 13 Feb 2021
Gillman Barracks, 7 Lock Road, #01-13  
Free Admission

Yayoi Kusama, Clouds, 2019. Image courtesy of Ota Fine Arts. Photography by Zhang Hong

Yayoi Kusama: Recent Paintings
Contemporary art lovers would remember the snaking queues three years ago when Yayoi Kusama’s instantly recognisable and colourful polka-dotted paintings and infinity room installations were on show at the National Gallery Singapore. Kusama returns to us with a solo exhibition that draws from a wholly distinct palette: the vivid colours that many have come to associate with her work are now replaced by fifteen black and white paintings on the wall, curated from her My Eternal Soul series. On the floors of this much more intimate gallery space, cloud-shaped puddles made from stainless steel are installed: they incorporate an industrial materiality to the room’s stark monochrome. Observe Kusama’s radiance in a different light; indeed, meet her in this austere—and, at once, equally playful—psychological landscape that is testament to an artist who continuously reinvents herself. 

16 Jan – 6 Mar 2021
Gillman Barracks, Ota Fine Arts, 7 Lock Road, #02-13  
Free Admission

Dipali Gupta, Moving Still Life (Her Pleasure Series 1.1), 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

Resituating Home(making): Hyper-Material Domesticity 
We’ve all spent too much time at home in the past year, the result being that we may have become too desensitised to the elements that make up our domestic interiors. Reanimating the practices of home through an engagement with gender, sexuality, class, and ethnicity, Tekad Kolektif—comprising artists Amirah Raudhah, Dipali Gupta, Fatima Bano, and Masuri Mazlan—has crafted this alluring exhibition that elevates the visual language of the domestic realm from the banal into a sensuous and lively practice across genres of sculpture, painting, new media, and installation art. Visitors in search of more hands-on fare should participate in some of their workshops, which include flower arrangement, cake design, and pigment dyeing, that highlight the various crafts that make up the worlds we live in and by. 

23 – 30 Jan 2021 
Cuturi Gallery, 65 Aliwal Street
Free Admission

Image courtesy of Funan Mall.

Creative Unions
What better place to launch Singapore’s first mall-wide art activation than in Funan, which is already equipped with its own rock climbing wall, bicycle paths, and 358-seat theatre. This art-meets-retail programme is all about ‘shoppable’ art: what happens when you pair diverse homegrown brands with visual artists? In one instance, fashion label Love, Bonito meets fine artist Allison M. Low in a dazzling installation reflecting images of the modern Asian woman throughout its retail space. Mr Aravin Sandran, Director of Neighborhood (the curatorial collective in charge) sums up the project’s ambition to move away from “cookie cutter formats of presentations in art” as well as to introduce design into retail. Be sure not to miss the wacky ice cream-sized experiments between graphic artist Nur Aida Sa’ad and local gelato brand Butterknife Folk in their project SMALL JOYS. They have crowdsourced stories to invent new gelato flavours—“Set Meal Mushroom Soup” or “Traffic Jam on the AYE Sunset” (this one’s vegan!) anyone? Art has never been more democratic and delicious. 

22 Jan – 21 Feb 2021
Funan, 107 North Bridge Road
Free Admission

Image courtesy of Asian Film Archive.

State of Motion 2021: [Alternate / Opt] Realities
Another world is possible—a popular rallying call adopted by disparate activist groups resisting the unimaginative structures of capitalism, racism, environmental degradation, and authoritarianism (all now exacerbated by the pandemic) that plague our current world. State of Motion’s sixth edition looks to the genre of science fiction across disciplines and delves into the speculative worlds dreamed up by Southeast Asian artists and beyond. Accompanying the exhibit is a film programme featuring, amongst other things: an early turn-of-the-millenium sci-fi thriller from Singapore (Avatar, dir. Kuo Jian Hong, 2004); five bold predictions of Thailand’s future in a decade (Ten Years Thailand, various directors, 2018); and a haunting drama about a flu epidemic that ravages Manila in 2034 (The Halt, dir. Lav Diaz, 2019) which, with its marathon 238-minute runtime, can only be described as interminable as our present crises. 

20 Jan – 21 Feb 2021
Marina One, 7 Straits View
Free Admission (Tickets for film programme sold separately)

Rirkrit Tiravanija_untitled 2016 (nothing)_2016. Saffron dyed cotton, thread, metal grommets. Dimensions variable. © Rirkrit Tiravanija. Photo by Toni Cuhadi, courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore

S.E.A. Focus 2021 
Dubbed as a meeting point for the best of contemporary art in Southeast Asia, this is the place to be if you are seeking a curated survey of regional artists or in search of the cutting-edge that this region’s dynamic art practices and overlapping histories offer. This year’s hybrid showcase consists of a physical venue, hyper-horizon, at Tanjong Pagar Distripark for local visitors, as well as a digital exhibition site for international audiences. One of the major presentations to look out for is the debut of Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia in its entirety, his ambitious video work that proposes 26 terms that clarify and complicate the heterogeneity of the region. Bringing together emerging as well as established artists, expect to be entranced by the likes of Indonesian artist Syaiful Garibaldi, Thai video artist Kawita Vatanajyankur, emerging Filipino artist Pow Martinez, as well as other luminaries of contemporary art in the region. 

22 – 31 Jan 2021
Tanjong Pagar Distripark, Artspace @ Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road
Standard tickets at SGD$10 (Available from SISTIC)

Image courtesy of MAMA MAGNET.

Inner Like the OutAR 
Given the recent furore over the status of Clement and Dover forests, it is timely to ask ourselves: how should we city-dwellers relate to the natural world? In this installation curated by Tulika Ahuja (MAMA MAGNET), multidisciplinary artists capitalise on Augmented Reality (AR) to create digital environments (Reza Hasni and Siah Tiong Hong) along with intricate set design (Tina Fung) and soundscapes (Intriguant) to replicate a multi-sensory psychotropic digital experience that hones in precisely on this question. Armed with a smartphone, we are invited to scan the outer corridors of the room for exotic megaflora that pop on our screens in lush pinks and purples. Yet, at the literal core of the exhibition space, we are asked to sit in the eye of the digital storm and temporarily disengage. This hybrid physical and digital experience—a key characteristic, by the way of many of this year’s programmes—harnesses and interrogates its own form; it delights as much as it disturbs. 

19 – 31 Jan 2021
Gillman Barracks, 22 Lock Road, #01-33 
Free Admission

Yeo Siew Hua, An Invocation To The Earth, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

If Forests Talk
Finally, if you have fully embraced the social distancing lifestyle or believe that the future of art is digital, tune in to Kent Chan’s online curated programme that brings together an ecology of art practitioners whose works feature the tropical rainforest. Yeo Siew Hua—director of Locarno-winning A Land Imagined, with its surreal neo-noir landscapesappears with his new video work, An Invocation to the Earth, which was conceived when fires were ravaging Indonesia’s forest two years ago. Another immersive work to experience from home is X Steps Through A Forest, an experiential audio guide crafted by Llublijana- and Singapore-based Nina Djeckić that walks her listener through a forest tour. These critical practices that can train us to listen to the language of the forest may well provoke some of us to leave our air-conditioned comforts at home and—if not seek the nearest forest—find that we have always been, consciously or unconsciously, ensconced in the fertile midst of a teeming tropical ecosystem. 

22 – 30 Jan 2021
Free Admission 

Singapore Art Week 2021 opens island-wide from 22 – 30 January 2021. 

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